Friday, December 20, 2019

Murder of Crowes (actual play)


Because it came up in Facebook, and because James doesn't have it tagged as ICONS...

  • James' writeup of our original edition essay at The Murder of Crowes is here
  • My notes on the same evening here

A Christmas Idea (set up for ICONS)


I'm trying to sell this to my kids. (Who are both over 20 but I'll try to get them to sit down for a couple of hours and indulge their old possibly-soon-to-be-senile father.)

  • Santa Claus is a corporate commercial stooge. The Spirit of Christmas is a totally different thing.
  • Just to make it more racially insensitive and as a nod to my family's Dutch heritage, Svarte Piet will be his right-hand man.
  • For reasons of climate change, Santa's workshop has been moved from the North Pole to China.
  • The twelve signs of the zodiac, the twelve labours of Herakles...we have the twelve days of Christmas. There are twelve rituals that have to be carried out, and then the New Year will lose its power, the Old Year will retain control, and it will be Commercial Christmas forever!

Our heroes have themselves, a tiny bit of magic from the baby New Year (once January 1st comes around), and the assistance of the Krampus, who in my version is really the Grinch, regardless of what the actual legends say.

I'm figuring that we start on January 2, the tenth day of Christmas. I might shift this around a bit, with the whole thing coming to a climax on December 31 instead and the first couple of rituals being done undetected before Christmas. Haven't decided yet.

We start in medias res and have what seem like innocent children latch onto a hero (possibly at a shopping mall appearance) and they. Will. Not. Let. Go. Binding and cumulative Stunning, I think.

Department store Santas, the minions (mind-controlled through the costume) by Evil Santa.

From there, we have the Person Who Explains, who delivers the narrative dump. (Have to play by ear whether the kids want the PWE to just drop the narrative Yule log and or be part of it.)

It's possible that everything will be explained by the Krampus, who might well be attacked in true comic book fashion because he looks like a bad guy.

From there, we try to stop the second-last ritual. Probably it'll be something to do with eleven pipers piping, which makes me think of Azathoth and the demon pipers around him. Things will be stacked against them, but if they win, hey, great. Not gonna force it to go to another scene...

And then we'll deal with Aaron, the twelfth drummer, who is also the Little Drummer Boy.

I know, it's vague, but I have to get buy-in from them first.

Notes to NPCs

Not character writeups, no.

Santa Claus

Well, he can mind-control anyone in a Santa suit. He probably has control over Coca-Cola in some way (because of the rumours that red and white are Santa's colours because they're Coke's colours). The canonical Santa can get into buildings, which is probably alternate form (fluid) for oozing down the chimney or whatever else there is. Time Control, with Duplication and Teleport as the main effects.

Flying Reindeer

Either a gadget of Santa or actual foes, depending on what I need. If a foe, they can do damage with head-butting (Slash damage from the antlers) or kicking. Have to do something gross with Rudolph's nose....perhaps it penetrates all obscurity, which is why it has been cut off and mounted on the end of a flashlight (which can also do bashing damage). Rudolph appears but with a mechanical muzzle...kind of a reindeer version of the James Bond villain Jaws.

Svarte Piet

Shunned by modern society, equipped with coal, what else can he do but throw in with Santa?

I'm a little unclear on his actual abilities, but let's say he can transform anything that you don't possess into coal. So to protect something, you have to claim it.

Old Year

(I could get really bitter and cynical here, but I'm going to try to avoid that.)

Old man with a scythe is the imagery. The old year is death, is going to death? Will get the new year's health — for him/it this is a straight immortality tale, so maybe he's avoiding the skeleton with the scythe. I just re-watched the JLU episode "This Little Piggy" so maybe there's some Charon imagery I can work in?

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Idea: The Von Neumann Problem

Icons, at least the character writeup is

I have no idea if this would make an interesting scenario, but here we go...

An alien space probe lands on a remote island. Its entrance into the atmosphere does not go unnotices, and our heroes are notified.

The space probe is a Von Neumann machine: it uses the available material to create copies of itself, which it then sends out to build more copies. Theoretically, it should stop when it has analyzed sufficient resources, but the meaning of the term "sufficient" is vague. One of the "top men" involved suspects that the probe will stop after it has a probe in each environment on earth, so that's actually a lot of probes.

When not busy defending itself, it builds one new probe every fifteen minutes. When busy defending itself, it takes thirty minutes to build a new probe (it uses one of the Fast Attack movements from Extra Limbs to do so).

The density (and Density) is less while it is being built; clever players could do something then.

If the players arrive after the first one is built, then they have to get rid of two. Or four. Or...

The probe has a vast library of devices that it can make prominent on the copies: because there are no useful radioactive materials on the landing island, the initial copies are solar. If there is an enforced absence of light (a day or two), new probes will be geothermal, or wind-powered, or tidal...whatever works.

I've used Transmutation here to reflect its nanites disintegrating something nearby and reconstructing it into something else. Yes, realistically the probe should have Adaptation and Gadgets but instead I've subsumed them under the "Alien probe" quality.

It's a challenge. I just don't know if it would be an interesting challenge.

Neumann (No secret ID...he's an alien space probe) — Artificial
5 4 8 5 4 10 18
  • Military (+1)
  • Supreme (10) Life Support (everything)
  • Amazing (8) Density (Innate)
  • Supreme (10) Transmutation
    • Limit: Source
    • Extra: Analysis
  • Good (5) Super-Senses (IR, UV, X-ray, tactile, one to be named as needed)
  • Amazing (8) Extra limbs (arms)
  • Alien probe that uses the local resources to analyze and reproduce
  • In light and resources, can reproduce every 15 minutes
  • Reservoir of gadgets to make

"Analysis" is an extra I just made up whereby the probe can touch something as if to restructure it and discovers its chemical compound. Arguably it already has that because it does transmutation.

Random characters


Here, have a random character while I test a generator (This is an old character; I wrote an unsuccessful story about her.).

Armageddon Grll (Erzebet "Becky" Florica) — Transformed
4 3 8 3 5 4 2 12
  • Business (+1)
  • Leadership (+1)
  • Amazing (8) Force Field
    • Limit Constant
  • Good (5) Life Support
    • breathing, vacuum, cold, heat, pressure
  • Good (5) Leaping
  • Shy
  • Can't really feel because of force field but wants to
  • Mistress of collateral damage
Scuttlefish (Dana Dear) — Gimmick
6 4 3 5 4 7 * 10
  • Leadership (+1)
  • Power: tentacle harness (+1)
Powers Alien harness:
  • Good (5) Extra Body Parts (Tentacles)
  • Great (6) Telepathy
    • Extra: Psychic Weapon Limit: Duration
    • Extra: Energy Drain
  • Fair (4) Mental Resistance
  • There is no one else like me
  • A sudden & expected betrayal
  • Artifact of power and mystery

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Limbo Tavern


So here's an idea I had this morning, thinking about structures for campaigns (specifically episodic campaigns).

The players have found their way into the Limbo Tavern, at a kind of nexus of dimensions. The tavern is large, with six hundred people in it, plus a number of employees. It is surrounded by the Mist (for them as likes capitalized nouns). There is day and night, but they are not equal length.

The tavern has become a kind of community. There are staff and guests, but the line is sometimes blurred; a more accurate way to say it is there are Stayers and Leavers. Those who stay have made their peace with the tavern and its stay there. Those who leave have not, but often find they have journeyed back someplace else. Those people often try to return to their home worlds.

The idea is to provide a place for player characters to congregate and to leave from, while giving them a place to return.

(Quite literally, this is "you meet in a tavern.")

To get to the tavern from a magical realm, you must be in fog and walk through a doorway. There are probably other requirements but they can be fulfilled accidentally, for that is how many people get there.

To get to the tavern from a scientific realm, you need a transdimensional portal but the power level must be set to a specific level and the destination must be set to the equivalent of "here," whatever that is.

The Population

Stayers are called "Tavvies" internally. Leavers are trans or transients or (and this is an insult among Tavvies) "customers." (If a Tavvie accedes to your request but says, "The customer is always right," you have been gravely insulted.)

The Mist is a dimensional portal, but the destination changes. You can't be sure of where or when you're going. Because some people go and come back, there has slowly developed a kind of folk wisdom about the Mist. It might or might not be true. (See Leaving the Tavern for details.)

The Limbo Tavern holds 600 people. Something enforces that rule: If there are 599 people, a pair cannot arrive, not until someone leaves. By tradition, the number of Tavvies is capped at 50.

There are good things about being in the Tavern: You don't age (though you can die by violence or wounds, but not by disease). If you don't ask what you're eating, your original payment covers it. Both magic and technology work, within limits. Time-based curses (such as lycanthropy) have no effect.

There are bad things: They take all your money. They're very good at quelling anything beyond a bar fight (the Tavern has been taken over and ruled by despots in the past).

Leaving the Tavern

Where you end up depends on when you arrived in the "day."

  • Leave earlier, arrive in someplace like your past
  • Leave later, arrive in someplace like your future
  • Leave by the "east" exits and arrive in a place where science holds sway
  • Leave by the "west" exits and arrive in a place where magic holds sway
  • Leave by "north" or "south" exits and both are true

The directions are in quotation marks because anyone with a bump of direction has a constant irritation. It's like the whole north-east-west-south thing is imposed by the structure of the building.

Are these things true? Don't know. The Tavvies think they are.

More—like characters and dynamics and how do they get their food and ale?—when I think of it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Doctor Why: Term Paper (Mutants and Masterminds Hero High)


  1. Setup
  2. Orientation
  3. Pop-Quiz
  4. Midterm
  5. Term Paper
  6. Final

This is a set of very hasty notes. James' tablet died shortly into the session so he won't be posting anything; I'd rather spend my time making sure that everything's in place for the last session, but here's more or less what went down.


  • Geodesic (Dana Mehr)
  • Bruiser (Matthew Beady)
  • Tech-Head (Clark Wayne)

Alex's player was away.

This session

Nothing had been destroyed for several weeks. Because term papers are due at the same time as the final exam, the two classes before the final are essentially research and q&a sessions, where students can quiz Dr. Why or use the library.

Before the last class before the final, Geodesic gets another visit from Beech and Hunter. Beech gets to the point. "I'm not going to ask if you have possession of one of the coins of Eris because I don't want you to have to lie to me. And, in fact, I'm going to violate several parts of official secrets policy because you're not old enough to swear an oath of secrecy.

"We think he's amassing the coins. The coins are not a product of Eris, they are Eris. And when you get enough coins together—and we don't know what that critical mass is—they fuse and re-create Eris."

Geodesic is cool and in the "interesting if true" camp.

Beech goes on. "The problem is that the coins are a power source. The Pandora technology can convert magical energy into other energy, usually electrical. One coin, split into eight pieces, powers all of the suits of the Power Corps. A pair of coins of Eris powers Mimicon."

Mimicon is the evolution of Replay: the crazed android bent on taking over the world. (It turns out that the robot does not want to destroy all life, but only destroy all non-normal life, and its view of normality excludes all superhumans, disabled people, and aliens...and a number of regular old humans. People with glasses, for instance.)

The reason that Beech is willing to violate the official secrets act is that Mimicon has copied a duplicator. It can reproduce itself, which means it reproduces the coins of Eris.

Which means that critical mass might not be far away.

Geodesic assures them that the coins are safe and not with him.

They give the same information to Tech-Head (in a coffee shop rather than Tech-Head's home).

Tech-Head examines the power source more closely when he gets home and looks at the results of his last scans. It does in fact contain two coins, embedded in something that keeps them a specific distance apart. Apparently the power generation happens in the dielectric space between the coins.

He resolves to wrap the power source in the finest aluminum foil, pop it in a styrofoam cooler, and take it to Geodesic to have it stored away.

In the meantime, Matthew Brady is served. Apparently there is some suspicion that Doctor Why is in the pockets of Big Reconstruction, causing all this damage so that it can be rebuilt. With the construction company's lawyer present, he is supposed to give information to the lawyers Alkahest and Azoth, an old boutique law firm based in Toronto.

The player characters met at class and moved to the library, where there are coves and crannies they can use unobtrusively. They get caught up on each other's lives. When Bruiser mentions the names of the lawyers to Geodesic, Geodesic is immediately concerned: both are terms for the universal solvent desired by alchemists. Tech-Head's answer is to claim that it's Nicholas Flamel screwing around again.

The characters are making good headway on their term paper (a design for a temporary containment system for supervillains, to be used in police stations) when there is the kind of hubbub that involves screaming and people rushing for the exits.

The known supervillain Mastermind has floated into the library. He homed in on the players and wanted two things:

  • First, the kids should give him the coins of Eris. (Cue Geodesic heading out to dispose of a certain foil-lined styrofoam container.) Bruiser tries to run interference. It's a good thing that Bruiser is tough because he gets thrown aside at least ones. Poor Geodesic has to do some dancing to get around the lieutenant that Mastermind placed just outside the fire exit, Keres.
  • Second, Tech-Head should give the suit back to its intended recipient, Clark Wayne.

Once Tech-Head claims the suit is with its intended recipient, Mastermind is willing to let them go. He'll deal with the coins while they take care of the army of Mimicons descending on the classroom. (The GM might have said “Luke, I am your father.” at one point but that should not be taken as canon.

And in fact, on the way to a sekrit hiding spot on a Thousand Islands,, Geodesic sees four Officer Kit Lawsons out in the parking lot, heading for the classroom.

Tech-Head gets into the classroom first. The "real" Kit Lawson drops his disguise; he's a Mimicon, from the earlier incarnation of the robot. The Mimicon robots have a slight problem with maintaining stable programming, and, well, this one is the duplicate who didn't want to study war no more nor go back and re-joing the collective. So he became a cop who only works PR stuff. Like visiting classrooms. After the Replay thing, he figured everything would be fine, but now the others have come for him.

Dr. Why is still trussed and bound at the front of the room.

Bruiser gets there just before them and blocks the doorway.

By the time the four Kit Lawsons get there, they are a Kit Lawson, an Alex, a Tech-Head, and a Geodesic. Bruiser is not fooled and knocks one down into the stairwell at the far end of the hall. That one never returns.

They switch to their Mimicon forms.

Another Mimicon shows up outside, and Tech-Head began to deal with it while Bruiser was dealing with the three outside.

Fighting and property damage happened.

In the midst of this, Geodesic returns, and ups the amount of property damage.

The Mimicons burst into the classroom.

Tech-Head warns them against the problem of collecting coins in one place. If they keep duplicating and staying in the same place, they could be in danger of being taken over by Eris.

“We already have been,

says one of them, and the floor beneath vanishes, taken apart by the one who got knocked down the stairwell.

Doctor Why and all the Mimicons vanish down the kaleidoscopic tunnel that has appeared there.

The tunnel disappears, leaving only damage.


Second leftover: the Egg of Monsters

I wrote this for an anthology but I couldn't get it long enough for the anthology. It's kind of a specialized topic (superheroes and vampires) so I dunno what to do with it. So here.

The Egg of Monsters

I was dodging to the next row of graves in the cemetery—you know, to avoid being killed—when the growling stopped me.

Our city isn’t exactly in a wolf zone.

I squinted in the darkness for the source of the sound.

A poodle. Not a frou-frou show dog but a bedraggled feral beast as tall as my ribs. It was flanked by a hound-y looking mutt and a burr-knotted spaniel.

But feral dogs, though lethal, were not the monsters I was running from.

I took a step backward.

There was another chorus of growl.behind me.

What do we pay dog catchers for?

* * *

Rent and dog food are ridiculously recurrent expenses, and I needed money. I also needed money for Slobberkin's shots, which I was sure were going to hurt me more than they hurt him. So I found a job to do.

This job required me to meet someone who was going to probe my mind and figure out if I could be trusted to do the job.

I know, secret ID and all of that. But (a) it's the supervillain equivalent of “I know a guy,” and (b) I hoped being trusted would translate into future work, and (c) I needed the cash. My last job had netted me a friend but those don’t have a cash value.

This guy—call him Mr. Verity because that was his trade name—looked like TV idea of a lawyer: handsome, shaved head, mocha skin, nice tie. He told me he was a truth-teller, not a full-blown telepath. “Folks wouldn't trust me if I were a telepath. Too many secrets.” He had a practised smile that didn't reach his eyes. He had a form for me (I signed as “The Mynah,” duh). He said he had to touch me to know if I was telling the truth.

He held my hand because he said he had to touch me to know if I was telling the truth. I told him a lie as a control (“I love clothes shopping”) and the he asked me questions. I was the Mynah. I didn’t work for a government agency. If I acquired the item, I intended to turn it over to him on behalf of his employer. I did not intend to extort extra money.

The job: theft. A one-percenter stored the results of his one per cent hobby in a ridiculously well-secured storage facility. (His hobby was collecting unique items.) Another one-percenter wanted one of those items but it was, by definition, unique. I was to steal it.

“It” was the Egg of the Moors, aka the Egg of Demons, the Mother of Troubles, Pandora's Egg, yadda yadda. More bronze than gold, about the size of a goose egg, lots of mystical writing, a crystal lens at each end. There was lore about it as there is about all things with uncertain provenance and squiggly writing. In a few days, it was going to travel on permanent loan to the Vatican.

Why the tight timeline? The previous contractor had suffered an accident of the incarceration kind. Some groundwork had been laid, however, so the night after I met Mr. Verity, I was hiding in the aforementioned storage facility. Don't knock invisibility—even my crappy kind.

I did not wait for the Egg to be moved. I wanted the Egg measured and photographed and verified and if possible in the case, but I didn't want to be so late someone else would have already taken it.

Sound thinking, and I was just waiting for certain guards to go off shift.

Discovery One: God had rolled on the Wandering Monster Table.

* * *

A pale impulsive whacko with no regard for schedules, bullets, or tasers walks into the room and picks up the carrying case.

I should have written the job off, quit, found something else. I didn't.

I can sweet-talk my landlord, but not my dog.

Before I can act, a man and a woman charge in. Identical black suits say ”Agency dress code,” but the woman holds a one-hand crossbow, the man a fancy gun. No agency I know.


“Doctor Tavor, stop and put down the case!”

The impulsive whacko—apparently “Tavor” and I bet a doctor of the "mad" type—pauses to monologue. “Respect, fool! You address Dracula.Lord of the Vampires!

This outlandish claim makes me stifle a giggle despite the situation. He's wearing jeans and a plaid shirt with pearl buttons. Can any non-nudist be less Dracula?

The female agent fires her crossbow; un-Dracula catches the bolt and tosses it aside. The male agent fires the gun. It's a squirt gun. The whacko dodges all but a drop on his free hand. The drop sizzles and smokes like acid.

Whacko snarls, crosses the distance in two gargantuan steps and breaks the man’s neck. She has reloaded but he catches the next crossbow bolt, grabs her. He buries his mouth in her neck and then throws her away.

He leaves with the Relic and the case.

Do I follow him or help her?

* * *

Still no guards. Clearly been dealt with. I un-hid and checked the agents.

He was dead; she was not. She had a ragged bite mark on her neck—not a neat pair of holes, but two ragged semicircles that oozed blood in a half-dozen places.

She opened her eyes and tried to slug me, but her punch was weak as a puppy’s head butt.

“Easy,” I said. “I’m Mynah.”

“Never heard of you.” She forced herself to a sitting position and checked her partner. I saw her sag. “Shit. Log: Lindsay—Agent Walden is dead by Dr. Tavor. Looking for help because I’m compromised.”

She shuddered and pulled herself together, then looked at my costume and me. “Super? I need your help. Here’s the situation: That guy think’s he’s a vampire. Green-class super.” Colours of the rainbow: red was highest, violet was lowest.

“But the weaknesses, too. I guess the squirt gun was holy water?”

She nodded. “Somewhere Tavor got the idea that he’s Dracula in an underpowered form, and the Relic will juice him up.” She pulled a first aid kit from her purse, fumbled out the antibiotic spray for me. “My neck?”

I spritzed her. “But?”

“The Relic is the prison for the real Dracula. Like, the I-vant-to-suck-your-blood Dracula.” She felt the edge of the wound, ignored the first aid kit bandages, and started wrapping cotton gauze around her throat.

“How do you know?”

“I saw him go in. Lindsay did it. Drac had bit me, there’s a whole thing you’re not cleared to hear, end result is I can’t touch the Relic. Lindsay was supposed to but…well. Poor Lindsay.”

I didn’t say anything.

She looks at me with mildly unfocused eyes. “Can you imagine if Dracula gets out?” And she shivers.

“I don't fight vampires. I steal things.”

“I knit, but that’s not the talent we need right now. Tavor, he can’t infect others. Dracula gets out and suddenly we have vampires. An epidemic. Pandemic.” She shook her head. "I should have taken the transfer to meme division, but those guys are just too weird."

“What are you? FBI? Vatican?”

She showed me an ID. It said Nora Stern, CDC. Maybe the CDC logo was legit. “We deal with magical outbreaks as well as scientific ones.”

“Call your backup.”

“We’re understaffed. You're my backup.” She finished tying off the bandage and cut the excess cloth.

“What’s in it for me?”

“You get to keep stealing safely at night.” She grinned in a pale gallows humor way. “Plus maybe a bite. You like sushi?”

I rolled my eyes and then realized she couldn’t see it under the mask. “Fine, I’ll help.”

She said to the air, “Log: Deputizing the Mynah.

She didn't even murmur rites over poor Agent Walden. She made sure that ambulances were on the way but didn't give him another look.

So Discovery Two: people are not the only kind of monsters.

* * *

In the car, she unlocked her phone and handed it to me. “He can fly, but not fast. Relic case has a tracker. Give me directions.” She looked at me. “Unless you fly?”

“Violet class super. Non-flying.”

She scowled.

I figured out the display, made the map disappear, put it back. Figured out that the length of the arrow was his speed—a steady fifty klicks. “Where’d he come from?”

“Dracula? Transylvania.”

I know who Dracula is. “Tavor.”

“Usual. Type 2b: Unauthorized experimentation, lab accident. We thought the pseudo-Dracula persona was submerged but someone triggered the psychotic break. Lindsay and I were in the area but not close enough.”

“Tavor just knew it was in this storehouse and not in the displays in the houses in Martha's Vineyard and California?”

“Good question.” She repeated the question for her invisible logging app.

Agent Stern drove like a mad person, so I couldn’t Google (which isn’t the search engine I use, but you knew that, right?). Anyway, I was not at my best strapped inside a hurtling car. There were weird detours and a lot of one-way streets. I was busy holding on.

But I wanted to know things like was Dr. Travor publicly known? What did the logo for the CDC really look like? Had anyone ever decommissioned the chapel that Dr. Tavor was obviously heading for?

The north side of the city has this huge old necropolis ringed by big apartment buildings. In the middle is this chapel. The necropolis is essentially full (only rich people get buried there now) but the chapel is still there. If I were going to enact the ritual to bring back the lord of the vampires, I'd need formerly-consecrated ground. The chapel was once Catholic but now extremely non-denominational. Like, Satanists used it once.

I think that would count as formerly-consecrated ground.

I told Stern this.

“Long winding road to get in, though, right?” I agreed. “We get in there, we’re trapped if he’s really going somewhere else. We have to play catch-up.”

“We have to play catch-up anyway. This way we at least have a chance.”

“I’m driving.”

I couldn’t see him ahead of us—it was a crescent moon—but the tracking signal showed him in the necropolis.

We got out halfway up that long and winding road. We stopped the car by a wheelbarrow, got out, and she shot me with a taser.

* * *

I don’t know if you’ve ever been struck by a taser. It hurts for two times forever, and during the part where your whole body is essentially useless? That’s the part where they put zip-ties on your ankles and wrists and dump you like potatoes in the wheelbarrow for the rest of the journey.

Look, she’d been bitten by Dracula, “someone” had triggered Dr. Tavor’s psychotic break, Tavor knew where to go, she was “fortunately” nearby but too late, she didn't pick up the holy squirt gun. However, I figured she’d let me walk to the chapel on my own two feet and I’d have a chance to improvise.

The taser was a surprise.

While she was dumping me into the wheelbarrow, she said conversationally, “The master will be hungry when he is free. If he drains me, I cannot be his bride.”

By the time she got to the chapel I could move again but I was incredibly tired and felt like I had had a cramp over my entire body. And there was Dr. Tavor with a couple of creased sheets of paper.

Well, crap. The ritual, I presumed. Probably printed out from the Internet. Because that’s where I had found it. In fact, I had a folded copy in my pocket. Stern had never looked. I don’t think she was a great agent.

I’m sent to steal a magic item? Of course I research it first, after that little contre-temps with the Albright Amulet. The name “the Egg of Demons” was a hint.

He said, “I am not hungry.”

She replied, “For when you come into your full power.” He shrugged it off but said, “Thoughtful.”

In my research there were two rituals. The magic circle on the ground indicated that they were going to do the releasing ritual; you didn’t need a circle for th.capturing ritual.

He directed her on last-minute things while I lay there, apparently helpless.

Remember those powers that Stern didn’t check on? I have three crappy™ super powers: I can mimic sounds, make some people sick, and go invisible-sorta. (I make an ultrasonic noise that people don’t want to look at.)

You might think those were excellent ritual-spoiling powers, and yeah, I could. Once. Then they’d kill me and do the ritual again.

That is, if they could find me.

Snapping pull-ties is easy if you have something like the handle of a wheelbarrow to fit between your bound limbs. Twist and snap.

So deep breath. Hooked my wrists over one handle and twisted, then got my ankles in position.

I started the invisibility sound.

Tavor was clutching his ears. “What is that noise?” he snarled.

“What noise?” asked Stern. She scanned the three hundred degrees of the necropolis I was not in.

I twisted and got my legs free, but twisting tumbled me over and broke the sound. I started it again, but too late.

“The girl!” Tavor said. I shut up and moved quickly. I doubted he could see in the dark and I know she couldn't. I hurdled a headstone and broke left, then ducked low.

“I’ll get her.”

“No—Dracula has need of you. The children of the night shall deal with her.“


It's not like I was leaving. The car was way down the lane and I had been hired to steal the Relic. I mean, it was right there. If I left, who knew where it would be tomorrow?

That was when I met the dogs.


The headstones are in rows about two meters apart. Quick dodge to the right, between stones because I feel awful from the tasing…Four more dogs are there and the rest of the pack is chasing and howling. One jumps up for my left arm; I jerk my arm away but it spoils my jump. I crash into a headstone and dogs are all over me.

They are just holding me with their mouths. They don’t all have soft mouths, either, so I know they can rip out chunks of flesh if they want.

Stern gags me and hauls me to my feet, then walks me back to the ritual site at the head of my canine posse.

“Make sure the gag is tight. I do not need interruptions,” Tavor says.

Stern nods.

The table is a cheap fold-out kind from a hardware store. Three shapes are powdered on the ground: The magic circle, complete with sigils; a square, with the table and the Relic clamped near an unlit candle, and a triangle, where Stern dumps me. She doesn’t tie me, because there are the dogs: some inside the triangle, some outside, but none actually on the lines.

Tavor strips off his plaid shirt to show a pale skinny chest and takes a place in the center of the circle. Stern starts chanting, Arabic or Farsi or something. It probably matches the transliteration in my pocket. Between verses or something, she hits a little gong.

I reach up for the gag and without pausing Stern points a gun at me. Of course she has a pistol to go with the crossbow and taser. I pull my hands down without lowering my gag. Instead, I look at where the circle is relative to me and the dogs.

Tavor starts to chant, too. Things are building to a head. She lights the candle.

So I grab a dog and dive for the edge of the circle.

* * *

I figured, if you need a magic circle, the circle part is necessary, like a wheel or a gear; it can’t be a non-circle. When someone dives for the edge and uses a dog (for example) to brush a hole in the circle, it’s not a circle any more, it’s an arc. Between the dogs rushing in to bite me and the one I’d used to wipe with, it was a non-magic arc with some scribbles around it. Shouldn’t work, right?

It did, though; magic is apparently not an exact science. Stern completed the ritual anyway; maybe she couldn’t stop. She lit the candle so the light shone from the big end to the little end of the egg.

And Dracula appeared in the arc, in the pale flesh.

Beside Tavor.

I didn’t see what Dracula was wearing because I was already busy with dogs. Probably something disappointing like a sweat suit.

Life hack: If you time it right, you can do cartwheels all along the diameter of a magic circle, bounce over the brawling vampires in the middle while knocking your gag free, then hit everybody with the illness sound.

Plus side: my crappy illness power™ works much better on dogs than people, so only two of the pack were left standing.

Minus side: the power is crappy™, so it doesn’t work on any kind of brawling vampires. They were also left standing, as well as the two dogs and the angry Stern.

* * *

Angry? Stern is positively apoplectic. She fires off three shots that hit nothing.

The dogs head for Dracula but then both Tavor and Dracula murmur “Attack!” in strained voices. The competing orders make the dogs stand stiff and still.

I go “invisible” and head straight for Stern.

She misses me another six times and she does not run out of bullets.

I think that is not a regulation weapon.

I hit her in the nose. My self-defense instructor had said that might be lethal. I do it wrong; it makes Stern fight fiercer.

Stern is much better at this than I am: she’s taking me apart while holding the Egg. One of her strikes numbs my left arm. I can only keep making the noise for one more shot—I have to breathe!—so I punch at her throat.

She blocks me.

I gasp for air and she can see me.

Stern grins, like someone who has the Raid in hand and has spotted that pesky cockroach.

And then she stops. Over my own pounding heartbeat, I hear faintly, “Come to me.” There’s no mojo in it for me, but Stern, she leaves and stumbles toward…Dracula.

I remember her saying that Dracula would be hungry.

I can’t let her go to him. It’s not decent, let alone that he can beat Tavor while starving so Lord knows what he can do at full strength. I mean, the Egg might not be able to capture him.

Shit.She’s holding the Egg.

My only advantage was that she wasn’t actually trying to fight me, just get to Dracula.

I trip her, and she doesn’t drop it. Dracula is crawling toward us. Dracula is nearly on us. I steal it from her hand. Maybe if I’m fast enough—

I need the candle. I sprint back to the table, and the candle is knocked over, unlit.

Dracula is drinking. I can hear it, big gulps and sucking sounds.

I am so sorry.

Where is the lighter? Where? I can’t see in the dark, and he’ll be done soon—

There. There.

All I can hear is that sound. I did not want that sound. I flipped the Egg of the Demons over so the small end was between the candle and Dracula.

He finishes. He looks at me all red and replete and full. Stern lays there like a rag used to check the car’s oil.

I start speaking even though the words didn’t come with a pronunciation guide.

He looks at me.

His eyes should be awful…but they’re sexy. .want him to bite me. I want him to bite me and Shelley and Mr. Verity—

I remember the words I was going to say.

I mumble the words.

Dracula dwindles and disappears. The Relic—the Egg—gets as heavy as sin.


This thing was clearly a threat that belonged at the Vatican or CDC or someplace protected. I had to avoid skin contact with Mr. Verity, hand it over to fulfil the contract, get paid, and then steal it back.

I was afraid to sleep. Those sounds...

At home I planted a second tracking device on the case and then put on headphones and blasted music into my ears.

The next day, I went to the drop-off. I put down the case, took a step back, and waited for Mr. Verity.

“Any problems?”

I told him everything, even though I knew better. I told him about the CDC and Nora Stern's betrayal and Dr. Tavor crying after he snapped out of it. I told him about Dracula and the sounds. I told him about my second tracking device. And then I didn't move. It was like I was frozen in place.

“You can't lie to me, or act against me,” he said. “Precautions...we've never worked together before, and I see I was right to plant the controls.” He picked up the case. “Perhaps I'll tell my employer that you couldn't manage the job. A resale might net me more. I have some acquaintances who might like to weaponize Dracula.”

Is that why I was able to finish the ritual? Because otherwise would have hurt Mr. Verity? In that case...

“You intend to free Dracula?”

“No, of course not.” I felt my body set, like concrete. “But I don't care if the buyer does.” He hefted the carrying case. “Of all people, I’m safe,” he said. “He has to touch me to hurt me.”

If I pointed out the things that Dracula could do — hypnosis, weather control, acting through mentally controlled puppets — he would spend time trying to find ways around it, and maybe get hurt. And he had ensured that I had to keep him safe.

So I sang at him. I sang the song that makes people ill, and in my desperation, I put extra oomph into it.

He suddenly looked queasy. “Stop it,” he said.

I might have faltered. He took advantage of the moment to lunge for me. I guess his powers really did require skin contact. I easily sidestepped him.

Then I kicked him in the head.

Not the throat: I couldn't do permanent damage to him. But I could render him unable to hurt himself. At least, that's what I told myself.

As mothers and dog owners everywhere know, it hurt me more than it hurt him.

At the end of it, though, he was unconscious and I was still standing.

I grabbed the case and collected the reward for returning it to the insurance company.

They kept an eye on me while I handed it back to the original owner for shipping, and I watched it off.

I had to.

I was protecting Mr. Verity.

Monday, November 18, 2019

One Hallowe'en leftover


I posted these in the Facebook group but didn't put them here. Clearly I have a Halloween mindset still.

Kid Cthulhu

Origin: Transformed
Real name: Levar Spinoza

(Image: Essentially a mind-flayer in a leather motorcycle jacket.

5 5 3 4 6 7 10
Specialties Intimidation
  • Average (3) Extra Body Parts (tentacles)
  • Incredible (7) Telepathy
    • Extra: Psychic Weapon
    • Limit: Extra only
  • Incredible (7) Energy Drain (vs Will)
  • Average (3) Flight
    • Limit: must drain energy first
  • Street smart
  • Mean and vindictive
  • Dreams of bigger things

For some reason, this says 1950s to me, so Levar Spinoza was a punk. They tried to knock over the wrong place, a front for the Science Mob, loaded with mutagens and whatnot, when both Levar and Frank Wallie were affected. It hit each of them in different ways. The store owner died screaming, helped along by Levar's shiv. The shop went up in flames...Levar managed to get away, but he thought Frankie was dead too.

Afterwards, Levar was different. There was no way he could go back to a regular life. Now, he's got tentacles that let him feed off the life force of others, what Frankie calls "vril," and he never loses his knife: it's part of his very being, formed from his mind. If he's hopped up on vril, he he can even fly for a little while.

He doesn't have a lot of influence yet, but he will. Oh, he will.

Wall O' Frank

Look, Frank didn't have a lot of prospects. When you're six-two but have a club foot, the football teams don't come after you, right? And besides, Frank's always been a follower, instead of a leader...that's why he hooked up with Levar.

Origin: Artificial
Real name: Franklin Wallie

(Image: A cross between the very bad makeup in I Was A Teenage Frankenstein and the Kingpin.)

4 4 8 3 3 3 11
  • Arts (poetry)
  • Martial Arts
  • Wrestling
  • Supreme (10) Life Support
  • Poor (2) Duplication
    • Extra: Split Body Parts
    • Limit: Extra only
  • Fair (4) Damage Resistance
  • Fire! One of the things that killed me the first time!
  • Soul of a beat poet
  • "Whatever you say, Kid."

Yeah, when the building went up in flames, Frankie was scared as all get out. He was afraid he was going to die, what with jars exploding and flames licking around and mutagen spread everywhere and the dead shopkeeper there.

And he was right. Frankie died that night.

He didn't stay dead, though. Something (or some combination of somethings) put him back together. And maybe not all the parts are originally his.

If a part gets lopped off, he can command it—he can send a hand into a room to strangle someone, or pull on an eye hard enough to remove it and leave it there for lookout.

And when he puts it back, it just grafts there with no extra scars.

Frankie doesn't have the curiosity to ask what brought him back to life, or why. If he thought about it, he'd know there's a reason, but he's happier being a follower.

Mr. Shoggoth

Origin: Birthright

Real name: varies

And one more just because it came to me.

3 4 7 4 3 6 13
  • Athletics (Master)
  • Business
Powers Huge amorphous beast:
  • Amazing (8) Growth
  • Great (6) Transform (ojbects)
    • Extras: Animals, Humanoids, Effect: Stretching
  • Great (6) Aura (Mental Blast)
    • Extras: Ranged, Broadcast
    • Limit: Not when Transform is being used
  • The normal form is the mind-bending one
  • Money is points in the game
  • The game is everything

Normally, Mr. Shoggoth has enough wit to keep from normal appearance, but should it forget, then everyone who sees it/he/she suffers from what in Call of Cthulhu would be a SAN loss. It functions as something automatic. I suppose technically you knock him out and he gets sanity-blastingly ugly. (He should also grow to Growth 8, but I'm willing to elide that.)

If you want Lovecraftian horrors in your game, Mr. Shoggoth is literally a shoggoth, a relic of olden times created by the Old Ones as a servitor.

If you don't, Mr. Shoggoth is (a) an escaped experiment, (b) an alien (and there might an interesting rivalry with Octofather), or (c) a mutant.

Mr. Shoggoth might be a financier of some kind or a mob boss. What's important is he makes lots of money. Maybe he's a billionaire real estate tycoon running for President in the 2020 election?

Pointless things

Mutants & Masterminds

My ePub version of the M&M SRD now has chapters 1-5 and chapter 8.

I had intended it for the players who do not have rulebooks from Green Ronin for the Doctor Why campaign, but that has gone much faster than the conversion to ePub. (I'm using the HTML from D20 Hero SRD as the basis, but it has lots and lots of stuff that my ebook generator—Sigil—does not like or obey. So I'm slowly converting it over.

It has been interesting seeing what works on, say, a smartphone (intended target) and what doesn't. I've had to disassemble several tables and convert them to <dl> lists, because the ebook stuff tries to represent it as a big table that flows off the screen.

If I were smart, I'd have done ICONS first. (Actually, if I were really smart, I wouldn't be doing this at all.)

Also, for file size reasons and searchability, I've broken several of the larger chapters (notably the list of archetypes and the power effects and modifiers) into their own sections. So archetypes got shoved to the end of the book, and powers now runs like three chapters: Powers, effect descriptions, modifiers.

Not that the power effect descriptions are done, but it's been a chance to flex my very rusty sed muscles

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Dr. Why: Midterm (Mutants and Masterminds Hero High)


  1. Setup
  2. Orientation
  3. Pop Quiz
  4. Midterm
  5. Term Paper
  6. Final



Ages run the gamut from Geodesic (age 14) to Bruiser (age 24)

  • Alex Hanson (actually Ak'hanezakhar), the exiled alien princess.
  • Bruiser is actually Matthew Brady.
  • Geodesic is Dana Mehr, dressed as Kid Dr. Doom.
  • Tech-Head we're just calling Tech-Head, but his real name is Clark Wayne.

Innocent bystanders

Watching the VR experiences are Dr. Maya Nayar, Priya's mother, and Technologists Hadir el Haj and Garry Mantish.

Nameless occupants of a nearby building. I think they work for Google.

Villain group: The Manifest

For the players: I'm using the villain names as I created them, which are not the names we called them by in play: I called ersatz Kneebreaker "Fragile"; ersatz Lime Lantern is actually "Bubblewrap;" the teleporter is "Transit;" and the steampunky person is "Cargo." Or Bob, Carla, Lenny, and Sofia, respectively. And they forgot to say their names, or their group names, or explain why they really needed the suit back.

Between classes, we deal with a couple of things.

  • Geodesic hides the coin on a near-earth asteroid. His research in the time between classes shows him that no coins have been provably destroyed, but they are disappearing.

  • Hunter starts haunting Tech-Head's house. She's not hiding, but she has apparently been told that she's allowed to stand on the sidewalk but not on private property. (Clark waves to her sometimes.) Clark—Tech-head—spends a lot of time in his secret lab, deciphering the secrets of the power source.

  • Alex is probably amused by Priya's increasingly desperate attempts to keep the two from meeting.

  • Bruiser is getting a lot of flak from coworkers because they are short-handed, now that one of their members has been arrested.

And now we get to the midterm.

The midterm is to be a case study: the students are divided into teams of 4 and put into virtual reality. They get to re-enact a famous superhero battle as the heroes involved, with their own agency to change things moving from none at the beginning to full by halfway through. Afterward the students must answer questions.

Because (a) there are 16 students and not enough VR crèches and (b) something always goes wrong when superheroes go into VR, three teams of four go into the crèches at the Deja View institute downtown (at the intersection of King St. and Charles St., for locals) and the remaining four are a guard. Dr. Why isn't even there; he's at the place where they'll write the test.

Not surprisingly, Our Heroes are put on a team together. They win the draw between teams (well, rock-paper-scissors, actually) and elect to be guard rather than go into the VR crèches in the first round.

If (when) something goes wrong, note that it takes five minutes to safely bring someone out of the VR crèche.

The neurologist who is supervising at Deja View is Priya's mother. The lab is a large room on the ground floor with two exits (one fire, one hall). The crèches are arranged in a clock dial pattern around a central control dais. The room is about a storey and a half all with big tiles in a drop ceiling. (This becomes important later.) (Clearly this is a two-storey room that has been converted.) Dr. Nayar is there with two assistants. It was not clear whether she knows who Alex is.

Everything starts fine, as it usually does. Ten minutes in the exterior wall explodes inward. Standing there are four villains in non-thematic costumes, three in powered armor-ish suits and one not. The suits look like they're variants on those of known villains, like someone was paying them homage or updating them. They are:

  • Fragile, wearing an outfit reminiscent of Kneebreaker, a minor-league villain whose schtick was weakening objects like vault doors until he could hit them with a sledge hammer and break them. Keebreaker was a one-and-done villain of a local hero.
  • Bubblewrap is wearing a glowing blue-green forcefield reminiscent of the Lime Lantern. The force field is opaque below the neck. Bubblewrap is female.
  • Cargo is wearing a very steampunk armor. It doesn't look like it's actually steam powered, but there are whirring gears on the outside (behind Lexan covers). Cargo's goggles are pushed up on his/her/its brow, probably because the eyeholes don't provide a lot of view and the goggles would just reduce it further. The probable power source is mounted on the back and the whole thing seems heavy enough that there are whining servos and gyros every time Cargo moves.
  • Transit is in a full-body purple bodysuit (snug but not skin-tight.) There are D-rings all over it, as if he expects to have things strapped to him. He has heavy boots on, and is male. (We cannot tell the gender of the other two.)

Bubblewrap says, "We're just here for his suit. Nobody else needs to be alarmed." She points directly at Tech-Head.

Geodesic's answer is to cover the three innocent bystanders at the central control panel, along with a created tunnel that leads to the interior door.

Tech-Head's answer is to book it for the fire exit and take off. (Tech-Head has flight 6.)

Bubblewrap and Fragile follow. Bubblewrap has flight 7, and Keebreaker has flight 5. (After two rounds, Fragile cannot keep up and turns back to help the others.)

The fight is surprisingly ineffective, because Geodesic is busy maintaining his sorcerous construct, the bystanders are not interested in leaving yet because it takes five minutes to bring people out from the VR, and Transit is just watching, almost as if it was his job to bring people here but not necessarily to fight. Cargo and Bruiser miss each other for a while, but eventually Cargo connects and it becomes obvious that Cargo is stronger and tougher than Bruiser.

The innocent bystander assistants do rock-paper-scissors and the winner leaves (after getting assurances from Dr. Nayar that this won't affect his annual bonus).

Eventually Fragile returns and nothing in the fight gets better. A wild miss from Alex damages a nearby building through the hole in the wall. Geodesic notes the design flaws in Cargo's suit and comments loudly about them. Finally Transit teleports into the construct and threatens to kill the two innocent bystanders if people don't quit.

Geodesic drops the force wall and makes Cargo's helmet unusable, twisting it to one side.

Alex, now berserk, shoots.

And misses, in one of the four ones that Brian (the player) rolled in a row. Ceiling damage, and Dr. Nayar is hurt with the falling debris.

Geodesic does first aid, and Alex shoots again, missing but doing more damage to the nearby building and making it structurally unsound. (Unfortunately, Brian keeps rolling ones.)

Bubblewrap pleads with Tech-Head during the catch-and-escape cycle, saying that Mastermind is really expecting that suit tomorrow. Tech-Head radios the police that an employee of Mastermind is responsible for the property damage. Bubblewrap responds with a loudspeaker announcement that Tech-Head’s suit is stolen.

Having returned, Fragile puts the whammy on Bruiser and Cargo’s next shot dazes him.

Alex blames the villains for hurting her girlfriend’s mother and more collateral damage happens.

Tech-Head dives into a nearby lake and swims upstream, out of sight. Bubblewrap has to guess which of two feeder rivers that Tech-Head goes up but guesses right.

Tech-Head does not surface for fear that Bubblewrap is watching, as she is.

Transit tries to get Geodesic but fails, then teleports Dr. Nayar away.

Fragile falls—I think to Geodesic but I might be incorrect. Transit disappears; Cargo picks up the fallen Fragile to leave at a mind-numbing 100 kilometres per hour but Alex isn’t done yet. She flies to Cargo and damages Cargo’s collateral, then starts riding Fragile and Cargo to the ground.

Transit blips in and moves them to Bubblewrap: Transit, Cargo, Fragile...and Alex. The two unconscious ones fall into the river, Alex can fly, and Transit blips to the nearby sewage treatment plant.

Geodesic and Bruiser spend some time rescuing foolish people who thought being in a nearby building would protect them.

Alex is still angry and still cannot aim, so the water treatment plant takes a tremendous shot. Then Bubblewrap takes a shot, and we discover that Alex can aim (when Brian is not rolling a one).

Geodesic arrives. Bubblewrap deals with Geodesic while Alex is trying to deal with Transit, but she cannot find him.

The sewage treatment plant takes a lot of damage.

Bruiser arrives and they manage to calm Alex down, but Bubblewrap is out of the fight.

Tech-Head notices the three falling figures in the water and drags Cargo to shore.

Geodesic gets Bubblewrap and discovers that the green force-field is generated by a pendant, which his magic detector helpfully tells him is magic because of a coin-shaped object inside.

He spends a lot of time getting the pendant, but he succeeds.

In the meantime, Bruiser gets Fragile.

While their attention is elsewhere, Transit spirits Cargo away.

The four are excused from the mid-term if they want, but Tech-Head insists on taking it anyway because he likes to show how smart he is.